Back in 1667, one of the largest public regulations to pass in England did not have to do with more modern concerns such as town restoration, waste management, or building permits.
Instead, on March 25, 1667, it was declared that every resident of the country had to be buried in wool. Or else, a damning fine of five pounds would be collected from the estate of the deceased or their associates.
Why would such a specific order of Parliament be issued, you might ask? Well, in 1665, England had overwhelming amounts of three distinct things: sheep, imported linen, and death.
In fact, that year was particularly tough due to the bubonic plague, which resulted in nearly two hundred and twenty thousand lives being lost by the end of the year.
Traditionally, all of these corpses would have been buried within linen shrouds. And this custom was especially beneficial for the country’s rival, France– which exported nearly one-third of all of England’s linens. This made linens the country’s second-largest import, following groceries.
Of course, linen was not the only fiber used back then. Actually, there were five main fabrics: wool, silk, linen, hemp, and cotton. It was undeniable that linen had various advantages over its rivals, though.
For instance, linen was produced in a wide range of qualities which made the fabric widely accessible to both the poor and rich. It also bleached well and was easier to clean, making it a sought-after commodity.
On top of that, linen had rich religious ties. All four Gospels testified to Jesus being wrapped in linen prior to being buried. John and Luke even detailed how the fabric remained in the tomb after Ressurection– which was deemed as proof of a miraculous occurrence.
In turn, linen became the go-to fiber for burials across most of the Christian world. In the process, though, England’s own domestic wool industry was battered.
Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.